“Twitter, schmitter” says Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who vows to ‘wipe out’ the social network in Turkey
The Turkish government has apparently taken social networking site Twitter offline in the country in an attempt by its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to clamp down on rumours of a corruption scandal.
The move, which has been confirmed by Turkey’s telecommunications regulator and the state news agency, comes ahead of elections in Turkey next week, the run-up to which have been overshadowed by allegations of government corruption.
Users attempting to access the website began reported outages on Thursday night, saying that they were being redirected to a statement by Turkey’s telecommunications regulator BTK, which cites a court order to apply ‘protection measures’ on the website.
BTK said the social media platform had been blocked by the courts after complaints were made by citizens that it was breaching privacy. It said Twitter had ignored previous requests to remove content.
“Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible future victimisation of citizens,” it said.
Twitter is yet to release a formal statement, but has said that it is looking into the issue. However, it did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.
Currently, it appears that an alternative proxy network has been set up to allow Turkish citizens a work around; with BBC reporter Selin Grit tweeting that ‘people are tweeting nevertheless via back door’. The rebel tweeters including the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, the Mayor of Turkish capital Ankara, and in an extraordinary move, the country’s President, Abdullah Gul, who tweeted that “I hope this practice (Twitter blocking) doesn’t last too long”.
European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes took to her Twitter account to criticise the ban, calling it, “groundless, pointless, cowardly”. “Turkish people and the (international) community will see this as censorship. It is,” she said.
Turkey is one of the top ten users of Twitter worldwide, with around ten million users in the country, and the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly spread following the outages. However this blockage is only the latest clash between the country’s rulers and social media companies, with Google, YouTube and Facebook also falling foul of restrictions in the past.
Last summer, Mr Erdogan denounced Twitter as a ‘scourge’, following a series of popular protests promoted by the website. Shortly after, a government minister asked Twitter to establish an office in Turkey so that it could better communicate requests to take down content or hold the company accountable to Turkish law. Twitter did not respond to the request.
At a rally late on Thursday, Erdogan told a crowd of supporters, “Twitter, mwitter!” which roughly translates as “Twitter, schmitter!”.
“We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” he told the crowd.
Mr Erdogan has also said that Turkey could also ban Facebook and YouTube, which he says have been abused by his enemies after a stream of audio recordings purportedly revealing corruption in his inner circle emerged online. However, a senior official said on Friday there were no immediate plans to do so.
“The path was taken to block access within the framework of a court decision because of the failure to overcome the problem with the management of Twitter,” the official said.
“At the moment there is no[t] such a decision for Facebook and other social media,” he told Reuters.
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